Richmond Hill, Ont.-based corporate clothing provider Ash City Worldwide didn’t need a giant data centre, so it paired up with IBM Corp. for one to meet its needs: a mini data centre.

IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Centre has been around for two years, according to IBM data centre advisor Bernie Oegema, who helped with the Ash City implementation. It has been doing well in the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market so far. Lego-like, standardized components make set-up a lot easier. “There’s a quick deployment time, and lower capital and complexity,” he said.

Oegema foresees modular data centres becoming even more popular in the midsize market. “It’s growing very quickly as that segment becomes more IT-centric,” he said. Sun Microsytems Inc. also has a similar offering, the Sun Modular Datacenter.

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Info-Tech Research Group research lead Darin Stahl said that there is definitely a lot of interest, which seems odd during a recession when IT departments are often loathe to spend money. “Where it’s coming from is companies wanting to choose cheaper square footage. If you have to establish a new data centre in an existing space, it can run you $600 to $900 a square foot, and take 18 months to set up.”

Ash City was looking for a less stressful data centre arrangement. “We had three separate computer rooms in one building, and then another room in a different building,” said CIO Michael Suen. “It was consuming a lot more power, and it was difficult to link everything together. The telecommunications involved were high-cost.”

After a fruitless search for a suitable new building in Scarborough, Ont., the company decided to build a new headquarters from the ground up in Richmond Hill. But, instead of building a large, freestanding data centre, Suen went with IBM and its more modular, small-scale solution that would centralize IT operations and lower costs.

The scalability of the set-up is another big selling point in the market these days, said Forrester Research analyst Doug Washburn. He said, “When it comes to future capacity, it can be hard to know what to buy at the time.”

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The IBM Scalable Modular Data Centre also has some green benefits. Suen said that Ash City had no need for a massive, expensive air-conditioning unit, making a heat exchanger the greener, more cost-effective option. Similar to the way a radiator works in the house, the heat exchanger filters water outside and back in to cool the facility.

Over the last month, said Suen, things are already looking up: Ash City’s new mini data centre has already lowered cost and IT department time-spend.

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